Over 70 attend final meeting of Keith Bolender tour in London

Campaign News | Monday, 21 October 2013

And growing interest in Miami 5 International Commission

Canadian author Keith Bolender’s speaking tour of Britain, hosted by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, ended on a high note at the headquarters of the Unite union in London on Monday of this week.

The Diskus conference suite was filled to near capacity as more than 70 people came to a meeting organised by CSC’s north and south London groups to hear Keith and a range of other speakers.

In addition to hearing a crisp and compelling account of Keith’s new book, “Cuba under Siege: American Policy, the Revolution and its People”, the meeting focused on the case of the Miami Five and on next year’s major International Commission of Inquiry into the case, which will also take place in London.

Tony Woodley of the Unite union, who has played a leading role in the campaign for the Miami Five in Britain and, through international union links, in the US opened the meeting with a rousing, impassioned call for all present to redouble their efforts at this critical stage in the 15-year-long fight for justice.

“A lot is happening,” he said, “There are important developments taking place behind the scenes and at the same time the international campaign is growing.

“I want to pay tribute to all of you and to Cuba Solidarity for your unstinting work. I’ve been privileged to get to know the Five and their families. You really should know that they are aware of everything that is being done and are enormously grateful for the strength of the campaign here in Britain.

“I spoke to Rene, who is of course safely back in Cuba, recently and he is aware of tonight’s meeting, for example.

“We all know that this is going to come down to political pressure on President Obama to do the right thing. And that is to free the remaining four from the US and, at the same time, come to an accommodation that can see the American held on espionage offences in Cuba, Alan Gross, also released.

“There’s a moment and we have to up the pressure to seize it. The International Commission in London next March is a vital step in that struggle.”

Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary of Unite, chaired the meeting and said, “Our opponents might have thought that 15 years ago we would run out of steam over the Miami Five. But 15 years on, the campaign for justice is more vibrant and widespread than ever. It is international public pressure that is going to secure justice.”

Diana also welcomed José Polo, General Secretary of the Cuban Transport Workers Federation, who was in London for a conference of the International Transport Federation and attended the meeting.

Steve Cottingham from law firm OH Parsons underlined that point. “There are some important legal developments,” he said, “Having been told that legal avenues had been exhausted, the Five’s legal team have nevertheless found new ways forward.

“They have discovered and forced into the public domain the fact that the US government paid journalists in Miami to produce articles at the time of the trial that were prejudicial to the Five. This is a major constitutional breach that will be of concern across the US legal profession and wider opinion.

“Secondly, they are pursuing what is called a writ of Habeas Corpus, this may be a means of forcing new judicial consideration of what is an unjust imprisonment.

“Martin Garbus, who Time magazine describes as ‘one of the world’s finest trial lawyers’, is on the Five’s legal team. So the calibre of the legal representation could not be higher.

“But we all know that this is not simply a legal matter, but a political one. It is pressure and a changed political reality that are going to make the difference. What everybody here does matters.”

Her Excellency Esther Armenteros, Cuban Ambassador to Britain, praised the work of CSC and the efforts going into the International Commission next year: “The solidarity movement in Britain has really set an example.

“It is important never to lose sight of the human cost of this injustice faced by the Five heroes. They had seen the result of terrorist attacks on Cuba and its people. That’s why all of the Five say that if they were asked again to act to stop those kinds of attacks, they would not hesitate to do so.

“We in Cuba are enormously proud of them. And we are proud of the support from our friends around the world.”

Dodie Weppler is the CSC coordinator for the International Commission, taking place at the Law Society in London next 7-8 March. Dodie outlined the breadth of support for the Commission, “A glance at the endorsers shows that this message is reaching new layers, which is what we want.

“We are delighted, for example, that former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams is supporting it. Martin Garbus, who you have heard about, will attend - along with internationally renowned lawyers.

“It is not just the legal hearings, which will produce a compelling case for the US and other authorities. There will be a host of parallel events - political, cultural, campaigning. It is a massive undertaking and we need your support. Already we have the backing of the Unison and Unite unions - and other unions are looking at how they can support - and of trade union law firm, Thompsons.

“There are many ways you can help. You can raise funds for the commission through your organisation or union branch. Above all you can attend what promises to be an historic event. Families of the Five and, we hope, Rene, will lead a high level Cuban delegation to take part.

“You can publicise it and help get more high profile supporters. And we are asking everyone to go to the website, launched imminently, and upload a message of support for the Commission and a call on President Obama to do the right thing.

“There is something for everyone to do. The worldwide campaign has identified the Commission as a central event next year. Let’s make it the success that it needs to be.”

Keith Bolender skilfully wrapped up the meeting by picking up on the points made about the Five and weaving them into an account of the extensive research his book contains about the US siege on Cuba and ongoing aggressive US policy towards the island.

“So many Americans just do not know about the terrorist attacks on Cuba over half a century directed by right wing émigrés living in Florida.

“At times the US government has itself directly been involved in efforts to destabilise Cuba and its government - from Operation Mongoose to the Bay of Pigs.

“These military and terror methods are part of a continuum of siege that includes economic embargo and attempts at international isolation. So the case of the Miami, or Cuban, Five is in this deeper context.

“But there are significant changes. This month the UN is again due to vote against the embargo. Last year’s vote saw just two other countries join the US in voting for the embargo - Israel and the Palau Islands.

“Even in Florida, the younger generation of Cuban-Americans, including those who have recently arrived in the US for economic reasons, is keen to build links with Cuba.

“So historically things are moving in our direction. We should increase the pressure, over the Five and over the embargo, to bring justice that bit closer that bit more quickly.”

At the end of the meeting Keith did a book signing and many people took the chance to have their video and picture messages for the new website recorded and uploaded there and then.

The site is about to go live and you can add your voice to the global voices calling for freedom for the Five. Go to www.voicesforthefive.com

  • This year's vigil in London for the 5

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